British strikes in Syria illegal, play into terrorists' hands – Assad

Syria's President Bashar al-Assad © SANA
London's air operation against Islamic State in Syria is illegal and therefore will not be successful, like the bombing of the US-led coalition in the country over the last year, Syrian President Bashar Assad said in an interview with The Sunday Times newspaper.

The support of the British parliament for the air operation in Syria advocated by Prime Minister David Cameron cannot change the fact that the presence of the Royal Air Force in Syrian airspace is unlawful since neither Damascus, nor the United Nations have given London the green light to bomb Syrian territory, Assad said.

“It will be harmful and illegal and it will support terrorism, as happened after the coalition started its operation a year or so [ago] because this is like a cancer,” Assad said, accusing British PM David Cameron of a farcical description of the so-called “moderate Syrian opposition” that is supposed to push Islamic State (former ISIS/ISIL) out from the territories it occupies in Syria.

“This is a new episode in a long series of David Cameron’s classical farce… Where are they? Where are the 70,000 moderates he is talking about?”

“Let me be frank and blunt about this,” Assad said. “There is no 70,000. There is no 7,000.”

Britain’s airstrikes cannot harm ISIS and only help to spread the cancer of terrorism further, because the West refused to combine its air power with Syrian forces to defeat ISIS, President Assad told the Sunday Times. “We know that they are not going to do so,” he said.

“It has to be from the air, from the ground, to have cooperation with troops on the ground — the national troops — for the intervention to be legal. So I would say they don’t have the will and don’t have the vision to defeat terrorism,” Assad said.

“You cannot cut out part of the cancer. You have to extract it. This kind of operation is like cutting out part of the cancer. That will make it spread in the body faster,” the Syrian leader said.

“How many extremist cells now exist in Europe? How many extremists did you export from Europe to Syria? This is where the danger lies. The danger is in the incubator,” he said.

Hundreds of Russian citizens are fighting on the terrorists' side in Syria as well. Their installations specifically are among the multitude of targets for the Air Force bombing campaign Moscow launched in Syria.

Moscow has repeatedly stated it won’t let its homegrown extremists return home to instigate violence.

“The Russians can see this clearly. They want to protect Syria, Iraq, the region — and even Europe. I am not exaggerating by saying they are protecting Europe today,” Assad said.

The Syrian president stressed that the Russians entered the Syrian conflict “the legal way.”

“I made the request. I sent a letter to President Putin,” Assad said, adding that the Russian military presence “has had a significant impact on both the military and political arena in Syria.”

Only the intervention of the Russian airstrikes curbed the expansion of the Nusra Front, an al-Qaeda affiliate, that has been feeling at home in Syria despite over a year of airstrikes by the US-led anti-ISIS coalition, Assad said.

As for the presence of the Russian ground troops in Syria, “We have not discussed that yet and I don’t think we need it now because things are moving in the right direction. The Russians may consider it with time or in different circumstances.”

Assad welcomed any counterterrorist cooperation with the West if it is “genuine,” adding that “it would take a matter of months” to accomplish the mission of defeating terrorism since various countries in the Middle East region “and the West in general” support these terrorist groups.

“As a government, our only countermeasure against terrorists is to fight them. We will not let them kill innocent civilians to satisfy the headline that we do not use force,” Assad said.

Speaking about the British airstrikes, Assad said that the UK “cannot defeat them [ISIS] through airstrikes alone.”

“You cannot defeat them without cooperation with forces on the ground. You cannot defeat them if you do not have buy-in from the general public and the government. They are going to fail again," Assad said.